Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 25, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
It has often been said that a crisis doesn’t build character, it reveals it.
We have two crises in our gospel reading today, and this saying very much applies to both of them! These crises reveal Christ. These stories and the way they are told by St. John reveal who Jesus is and why he has come. These are not so much moral tales told to build our character. They are first and foremost crises that reveal Christ Jesus as our savior and our Lord.
The first crisis isn’t necessarily a life-or-death situation, but it does involve a large crowd out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat. They aren’t necessarily going to starve to death, but if you’ve ever been out in the woods with a few hangry kids, you know how dire this situation is. Things can go south in a hurry!
But before we even get to the crisis itself, Saint John prefaces the story by telling us what time of year this is happening. “Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.” There are no insignificant details in John’s gospel! John mentioning that the Passover was near is hugely significant! John intentionally frames this story in the context of the Passover, which is the chief Jewish festival. The Passover is the celebration of God’s saving help, God’s deliverance of his people out of their captivity in Egypt as they trusted in his promise and painted the doorposts with the blood of a sacrificed lamb. And as God’s people were brought out of Egypt and spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness, when they were in the wilderness and out of food, God miraculously provided them with something to eat.
Now a bunch of Jews are again stuck in the wilderness without anything to eat. I love how Jesus toys with Philip here, feigning concern. “Well just look at all these people here! How are we ever going to buy bread for them all to eat?” Saint John tells us that Jesus knew what he was going to do all along. Jesus was testing Philip. “Do you remember your Sunday school lessons about the manna in the wilderness, Philip? Do you remember what God did?” Philip and Andrew both failed this Sunday school quiz, looking to their meager cash on hand and the slim pickings of a kid’s lunchbox. “What are we going to do?” they asked. And Jesus did what he already knew he was going to do. He took the loaves and fishes and he miraculously multiplied them, distributing them to everyone there, until all were satisfied.
The people who ate this miraculous meal in the wilderness knew they had experienced more than an impromptu picnic. They knew that they had experienced more than some kind of object lesson. They knew that they had seen a sign. They knew that this pointed to something important about who Jesus was. They began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who has come into the world!” They tried to make Jesus their king. Jesus refused and withdrew from them – he wouldn’t be a king on their terms. He wouldn’t be coopted by their agendas or their felt needs. He had bigger things in mind, bigger things to accomplish – bigger fish to fry, we might say.
But they were on the right track. Jesus was the one promised by God. He had come to be a king of sorts. But more than anything else, Jesus had come to bring a new Passover. He had come to deliver his people from their captivity to sin and death. He had come to be the new Passover Lamb, by whose sacrifice the people would be saved. This crisis reveals that Jesus is God himself, who has come in the flesh to feed people in the wilderness and lead them into the Promised Land.
The next crisis is told much more briefly, but it reveals much the same about Jesus. The disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee at night when a storm kicked up. They were three or four miles from the shore. Boats like theirs went under in those kinds of conditions all the time, so this really was a life-threatening crisis. Jesus came walking out to them on the sea. Walking on the water was a cool trick, but it was what Jesus said that reveals the most about him: “It is I,” Jesus said to them. This is ego ami in Greek, which literally translates as “I AM.” In Hebrew it is pronounced Yahweh. So now it is time for you to have a little Sunday school quiz. Do you know what God said to Moses when Moses asked for his name? God said, Yahweh, “I AM.” In the fear and chaos of that storm in the dark of night, Jesus revealed himself as Yahweh, as the Lord God. “I AM,” he said, “So do not be afraid.”
A crisis doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The Word we hear from God this morning gives us so much more than mere morality tales to build our character. Through this Word, God is revealing to us the truth about his Son. As Saint John himself says later in his gospel, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples that are not written in this book, but these are written so that you might believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”
We gather here today, each of us with our own crises of various sorts going on in our lives, both big and small. We hunger for a restored creation, free from viruses and fires and hatred and violence. We hunger for healing in our lives – the healing of bodies, the healing of relationships. We sometimes find ourselves wandering in the wilderness, feeling abandoned by God. Our lives are sometimes overwhelmed by chaos and darkness that cause us to be afraid. As we confess each Sunday, we are all in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves.
But in the midst of whatever particular crises you might be enduring this morning, today Christ Jesus reveals himself to you through Word and Sacrament. He reveals himself as our Lord and savior. He comes to deliver us as the new Passover Lamb, by whose sacrifice we are saved from our captivity to sin and death. He comes to feed us with the miraculous food of his holy supper, which assures us of his presence and his forgiveness. This miraculous meal strengthens us for today and gives us a foretaste of the Promised Land to come. Jesus comes to us in the midst of every storm, every crisis we face. Just when we think we’re going down, just when we’re about to throw up over the side rails of the boat, he comes to us saying, “I AM. Do not be afraid.
The crises we hear of in God’s Word today reveal Christ to us through the signs he gave. These signs are given that you would believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you would have life in his name.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church